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Agents search homes of Swallow, Shurtleff

Published June 3, 2014 11:10 am

Swallow and Shurtleff • Investigators look for evidence of bribery and obstruction of justice.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sandy • It made for a couple of surreal scenes: cops searching the homes of Utah's two former top law-enforcement officers.

Federal and state agents served warrants Monday on the Sandy houses of former Attorney General John Swallow and his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff.

For months, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill and Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings have been investigating the two men, along with others, with help from state and federal agents, as part of a sweeping probe of alleged wrongdoing tied to the attorney general's office.

"I know through working with state and federal investigative partners that the investigation is open and active," Gill said late Monday, "and we are following all leads."

Previous warrants have said investigators are searching for possible evidence of bribery, obstruction of justice and misuse of public funds. Shurtleff, who was in Washington, D.C., on Monday, said the search warrant on his house was no different than the prior ones on others in the long-running probe.

Agents from the FBI and the Department of Public Safety were at Swallow's home Monday evening, said FBI supervisory special agent Michelle Pickens.

She asked journalists to remain some distance from Swallow's residence while agents carried boxes out of the house. A law enforcement van pulled into the garage and the garage door then was closed.

While the search was going on, some neighbor boys brought over a plate of cookies to the Swallows.

The agents left the house around 8:15 p.m. Nobody answered when reporters knocked on Swallow's door.

Around 7 p.m., no agents appeared to be at Shurtleff's home, and nobody answered the door when a reporter knocked on it.

So far, the Gill-Rawlings inquiry has led to felony charges against one man, Tim Lawson, a confidant of Shurtleff.

Swallow has been facing scrutiny for at least 18 months. The Republican-dominated Utah House created a nine-member bipartisan committee last year to investigate him.

That probe, which cost about $4 million, discovered that Swallow had lost or deleted untold volumes of electronic records — from hard drives, computers and hand-held devices. Investigators determined Swallow had fostered a pay-to-play culture in the attorney general's office. Their final report also alleged he fabricated documents and destroyed evidence as part of a frenzied scheme to cover up inappropriate and politically damaging ties to questionable donors.

The House's findings were released publicly and its information was shared with Gill and Rawlings.

A separate investigation by the lieutenant governor's office determined Swallow had violated election laws by failing to disclose his role and financial stake in two businesses. Swallow offered videotaped testimony for the probe, telling investigators he didn't report the income because he wanted the public to know any side work would be in his past as he campaigned for the state's top law-enforcement post.

In the end, the lieutenant governor's special counsel found five violations of Utah election laws. The damning report came out the day after Swallow announced his resignation last November. He served less than a year in office.

At least two ethics complaints were filed with the Utah State Bar about Swallow. The Bar dismissed both, but has acknowledged that it is still investigating Swallow.

A separate Bar complaint alleges Shurtleff violated attorney ethics by accepting gifts and trips from convicted fraudster Marc Sessions Jenson at a time the attorney general's office was prosecuting Jenson.

Shurtleff and Swallow have denied any wrongdoing.

The U.S. Justice Department's Public Integrity Section, aided by FBI agents and state investigators, led a federal probe of Swallow and the Utah attorney general's office after the U.S. attorney's office for Utah recused itself from the case. The feds decided last September not to file charges against Shurtleff or his handpicked successor, Swallow, although federal agents remain active in assisting Gill and Rawlings.

Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon lauded Monday's searches.

"We applaud the efforts of Sim Gill and Troy Rawlings, who have championed this investigation during a time when agencies ranging from the Department of Justice, the Utah Bar Association, and the Republican leadership of the House investigative task force lacked the will to push on," Corroon said in a news release. "Sim never gives up and he never gives in — he is relentless in the pursuit of justice, and the truth. Utah is lucky to have him on the case."

Gill is a Democrat; Rawlings is a Republican.